New imaging technology from the University of Texas at Dallas could make the x-ray glasses sold in the back of superhero comics a reality, at least on a cellphone. A team of researchers has found a way to make the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum — the section between microwaves and infrared light — usable by medical or consumer devices. Just as infrared light can be viewed by some night vision goggles, devices that can image the terahertz band could see through drywall, wood, or even skin. It's been possible to use this band before, but the new solution is cheaper and simpler to create.

Meanwhile, the development of CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) chips means that entire imaging systems could be mass-produced quickly. "The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects," says Dr. Kenneth O of the UT Dallas Analog Center of Excellence. Research on the subject was recently presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, and the team is now trying to create a fully operational imaging system.

The team recognizes there could be some serious privacy implications, and for now they're focusing only on imaging from about four inches away. However, they say there could still be a number of potential applications. Consumers and businesses could use the imaging system to find studs, check money for signs of counterfeiting, or check for health problems like tumors. It may not be the most glamorous use of x-ray vision, but it could open up specialized imaging techniques to almost everyone.